It’s the end of another year FEARnettians, when the Ghost of FEARnet Past rises from the grave and forces everyone here in our Philadelphia office to choose their Top Films of 2008. Each year, there’s a lot of crying and screaming, but the FEARghost demands a list. And when FEARghost speaks, we listen and appease, and draw from the delights and horrors of the year gone by.
This time, there were quite a few films in the running – including a fair share of remakes, the return of Jigsaw (from beyond the grave), and of course, the proverbial vampire love story. But 2008 also provided a healthy score of films that weren't ready to lie down and take the Robert “bouffantiful” Pattinson lobotomy of teen-vampire lovin’. Instead these titles gave us Troma-tic undead zombie chickens, colossal monsters, teething female anatomy, organ repossession and some zombie strippers with more than just fear and shame in their eyes.
So we here at FEARnet.com wrote our lists, tallied them up and made sure everyone from our acquisitions director to our production artist to our interns and writers had a voice. Almost twenty people voted and came up with the Top 8 of ’08 Movies. Here's what they decided:
7.) and 8.) – Funny Games (U.S.) and TeethEver wonder why the democratic process isn’t employed by every government across the world? Well, it’s because of debacles like this. While there were no hanging chads here, while voting for our Top 8 of ’08 we did find there was a tie for number 7 between two movies of opposite polarity. So what’d we do? We voted both of them into the last two spots.Pretty much a shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 film of the same name, Michael Haneke jumped on a boat from Austria and brought the sentiment of Funny Games to America – and I’m gonna say he succeeded. The fact that six moviegoers, at the screening I attended, walked straight out of the theater within the first half hour (all of them muttering “disturbing” or “despicable”) proves just that. With amazing supporting performances from Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet as two psychotic young men who take a family hostage in their own summer home, Haneke takes the rules of home invasion films (and film altogether) and throws them out the window to construct a terrifying and, yes, Mr. I-left-at-the-31:22-mark, disturbing vision to which – should anyone still be in doubt – Frankenstein and the Wolf Man can’t compare. Oh, and yeah, the remote control scene is BAD. ASS.
While Funny Games might be a nightmare for the family, Teeth succeeds as the perfect nightmare for single people – men and women alike. After becoming a festival darling at Sundance 2007, Teeth slithered into theaters over a year later, and made men everywhere, collectively, grab their nether regions and thank God for their girlfriends. No better way to send chills down people’s spines than with a female vigilante who, in dealing her own brand of justice, finds the best weapon a set of pearly whites – located in her vagina! Read that sentence again. Yes, that’s what this movie is about. And it totally rocked. Horror has always been one of film’s more potentially creative genres, but writer-director Mitchell Litchenstein hands over something here that’s so disturbingly funny, relatably tragic, and violently bloody that it’ll be hard for future generations of horror filmmakers to top. Jess Weixler is superb in her role as the pubescent teen Dawn, who, while just discovering her own body, finds herself endowed with the bizarre condition of “vagina dentate.”
6.) The Ruins
This film’s trailer, which played before most pre-summer garbage, promised something with all the trappings of a terrible kids-bang-each-other-in-a-secluded-tropical-paradise-then-pay-the-price-in-a-PG-13-manner flick. In fact, one of my friends said that the film looked like a “For Your Consideration as Best Picture ad for Turistas.” Damn, were we wrong. It’s hard to quantify the perfect mix of visceral and psychological horror, but The Ruins pretty much has it down pat. With the mysterious plant life of this tropical paradise breeding, literally, inside of the film’s characters, impromptu amateur amputations are thrown around like shoes at a George Bush press conference – and before you know it, you’re thinking “Holy shit, this movie rocks.” The Ruins is everything a great horror movie should be: bloody, smart, stroke-inducing. And it’s all those things that landed it smack-dab at number 6 in our Top 8 of ’08.
5.) The Midnight Meat Train
Clive Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train, based on the author’s acclaimed short story of the same name, is near and dear to our hearts here at FEARnet. For, if you remember, back in October we premiered the film On Demand and on FEARnet.com, intent on getting fans everywhere to see Ryûhei Kitamura’s adaptation. With plans for a wide release nixed and the release date changed several times, it had felt like fans would be waiting forever. Fortunately, it proved worth the wait to see the creepy Vinnie Jones as a blackened-eyed, silent, suited, meat-cleaving killer followed by a curious photographer across the sleek, silvery, chill-toned canvas of New York City; a city with a long-kept, but ultimately fatal secret. Though, to be honest, it’s the meat hooks piercing the Achilles tendons of dozens of upside-down corpses on a subway train that puts MMT at number 5 on our list!
4.) The Strangers
With global warming in full effect this summer, people escaped into the cool frigidity of movie theaters to see Mirrors posters welcoming them, stamped with the self-proclamation “The horror movie event of the summer.” But those who saw that poster and then proceeded into Auditorium 6 for the 9:15 PM showing of The Strangers found out who really owned that title. After sitting on a shelf for quite some time, Bryan Bertino’s film finally made it to cineplexes everywhere, and SCARED THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF PEOPLE. The creepy masks, the edge-of-your-seat tension that could bring a cadaver back to life, Glenn Howerton from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – it was impossible not to fall in love with this film. With just enough brief flashes to flesh out the characters a bit, and villains who had no motivations but to torture the young couple they’d descended upon, there wasn’t much to this movie – but what was there was scary as hell. Now if only the supposed sequel can come out of the wheelhouse as excellent as this one…
Since Alexandre Aja’s High Tension paved the way in 2003, French horror films have really come into their own in finding American audiences. Living in Philadelphia, our FEARnet staffers somehow missed Inside on the 2007 film festival circuit. But like John Q. Public out there, we saw this French fright flick when it was released in 2008 by Dimension Extreme. Let’s just say, upon passing the DVD around the office and watching most staffers cringe as they recalled what could be the sickest scene of 2008 (oh you know what I mean! No spoilers here), we noticed a lot of desk scissors go – oh, how should I put this? – “missing.”
2.) Let the Right One In
Somehow this coming-of-age/vampire tale was embraced by mainstream throngs ravenous for bloodsucking, subhuman love affairs. In this case, we’re grateful for their enthusiasm, because Let the Right One In hits our list at number 2 and has nothing to do with the tween vampire craze of late ‘08. It ranks largely because of its beautiful cinematography and refreshing take on the age-old relationship between mortal and immortal souls. It's the un-Twilight. It’s visually stimulating, unconventional, smart, and vacant of tween love affairs or abstinence advocacy. And it gave FEARnet staffers a reason to celebrate vampires in 2008 without jumping on the jailbait-stocked “Twaggon”. Turns out those Swedes really know how to turn chocolate and vampires on their heads. Go figure.
Monsters. It was the one word that rocked the entire San Diego Convention Center back at Comic Con International in July 2007. That and a glossy poster featuring the Statue of Liberty with her head knocked flush off her body. Excitement mounted over the months that followed, until the 1-18-08 theatrical release. And, in the end, one word ended up taking the number 1 spot in FEARnet’s Top 8 of ’08 Movies.
Cloverfield took a bunch of unknown actors (remind you of anything? Like, oh, say, great ‘80s horror films?), plopped them down in New York City, threw them a camcorder, and pitted them against a giant monster. Then it said, “GO!” In the midst of the camcorder chaos, director Matt Reeves gave Cloverfield a bit of order, and some honest modern monster moviemaking, rivaled only by 2006’s The Host. We like to think Reeves’ unexpected exploding head scene nods at Cronenberg and Alien, while his giant, unidentifiable monster plays on the fears first evoked by King Kong and Godzilla. Here at FEARnet, we’re not sure how the rest of the world dug the shaky-cam style and undeniable nod to 9-11, but we’re taking Cloverfield for what it’s worth – a true monster movie, and our number 1 movie of 2008.
As you well know, much horror fare is released each year. The problem is that certain horror surfaces during festivals (LA Screamfest, Toronto International, Sundance) and then doesn’t see the light of day for another couple of months (if it’s lucky), or even several years. Below are a few titles we would’ve liked to have seen and considered for our Top 8 of ’08, but, because they had such limited releases, could not.
The Burrowers: Talk about a genre bender… J.T. Petty’s western-horror The Burrowers posed the age-old question, “What if The Searchers met Tremors?” Okay, maybe that’s not an age-old question. But it still looked friggin’ awesome.
Deadgirl: Directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harrel’s Deadgirl hit Toronto International’s Midnight Madness like a ton of bricks, instantly polarizing audiences. What they saw was a film that juxtaposed sexually curious teenagers with a zombie movie. Look out Teeth, there’s another potential number one in the category of disturbing films fueled by rampant hormones!
Martyrs: Much like Deadgirl, Pascal Laugier disturbed festival-goers with this film about two female victims of childhood abuse on the revenge trail. They’re described as taking “a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity.” Now why couldn’t it have been us dragged on that journey?!
Trick ‘R Treat: Michael Dougherty’s multi-faceted scarefest, set on Halloween, sat and sat and sat on Warner Brothers Studios’ shelves, until finally it premiered this year at Screamfest LA. While it was slotted for a DVD release next year (or so they tell us…), that didn’t help us FEARnetters in Philadelphia get a shot at peeping this could-be gem.
Well that about does it. Congrats to those movies that rocked ’08 for us and good luck to those dreaming of doing so in ’09. As for you gorehounds, give us what you thought were the scariest eight movies of 2008 – by commenting below!
Need more delicious end-o-year top eights? Read about what albums made our ears bleed (…in a good way) with our Crazy 8: The Best Music of 2008 or find out what shows we thought were scary enough to make the faint of heart change the channel with our Top 8 in TV of 2008!! While 2008 was pretty great, there are somethings we won’t be too sad to leave behind. Check out our list of the Top 8 Things That Annoyed Us About Video Games in ’08. We’re also commemorating the things that brought out the child in us this year with the Top 8 Toys of ’08. Don’t worry we didn’t forget about you bookworms either – check out our Top 8 Comics and Books of ’08!! Not enough 8’s for you? Then check out our red carpet footage from The Spirit premiere where we interview the Octopus himself, Sam Jackson!